The Westfield river has been a source of power and life in the Valley since the first inhabitants fished its waters for sustenance and used its path for travel. Follow the major route through Westfield, Route 20, and you find yourself accompanied by the river for most of the journey, nature always discovering the path of least resistance long before man does.
The river has not always been a sympathetic geographical feature in Westfield. Major floods in 1938 and 1955 caused widespread devastation and heartache. My grandfather, Fred Alamed, used his fishing boat to rescue folks on the North-side of town, trapped by the rising waters of the river, fed by the raging Arm and Powdermill Brooks.
Although the Flood of 1938 was undoubtedly the harsher of the two, both events prompted Westfield and other area towns to take steps to alleviate the possibility of future flooding by constructing, dikes, dams and pumping stations throughout the Connecticut River Basin. The 1955 flood led to the creation of a city Flood Control Commission, established in Westfield on December 1, 1960. The Commission meets at City Hall on the third Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. The Commission's page at the City of Westfield's web site is very well-done, with some amazing photos of Westfield during the two floods.
Most folks associate river flooding in New England with Spring rain and snow melt, but the floods of '38 and '55 occurred in the autumn of the year, a result of hurricanes and heavy downpours. The United States Geological Survey offers an interesting summary of Massachusetts floods and droughts at its web site, complete with graphs and chronology.
Despite nature's refusal to wear the bridle of man, public works projects and private efforts, (such as those by the Westfield River Watershed Association), inject man's hopeful partnership, insofar as it can be effective, into her hydraulic proclivities.
The postcards below, donated by reader/contributor Barbara Shaffer (thank you!), show the river before any major flood-control projects were undertaken, other than some relatively ineffectual earthen dikes built before 1869.
As always, thanks for stopping by!